As free agency winds down, the Brooklyn Nets have added some much-needed youth and athleticism.
But did the Nets sacrifice two major attributes that they seemed so intent on adding just a year ago? When Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were introduced as Nets seated alongside Jason Kidd in a press conference at Barclays last summer, Brooklyn felt it had added two critical missing ingredients -– leadership and toughness.
With Kidd and Pierce now gone, where will the Nets turn for the leadership and toughness when they need it most this season? It appears that the Nets will have rely heavily on new coach Lionel Hollins for both.
Remember, the Nets felt that they were a tad too soft and lacked toughness, leadership and experience with the core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez after losing Game 7 in the first round to Chicago in 2013.
"You saw it, there were certain games where things just happened that you can't allow to happen," Nets general manager Billy King said last year. "At some point, you've got to knock a guy on his ass if they're doing things. You've got to take a hard foul and let them know you just can't do that. And we didn't do it."
If Garnett returns, as the Nets expect, for a final season, he can provide the leadership and toughness. However, Garnett will be the first to tell you that he feels much more comfortable leading and infusing the team with toughness by playing on the court and playing well. And unfortunately for Garnett, the 38-year-old big man will likely be playing limited minutes and perhaps even limited games.
So who will provide it on the court for the majority of a game? The Nets are hoping that Pierce, Kidd and Garnett’s toughness and leadership rubbed off on Williams, Johnson and Lopez in the one season they all had together –- a disjointed season at that due to all the injuries to Pierce, Garnett, Williams and Lopez.
The Nets’ toughness will certainly be a question mark entering this season. Before Williams and Lopez can begin to push anybody back, they’ll need to have confidence that they can push off on their surgically-repaired ankles and feet, respectively. It could take a while to regain that type of confidence again.
After losing Shaun Livingston in free agency, the Nets did add Jarrett Jack, a hard-nosed guard who won’t back down and can rise in pressure-packed moments. Fellow role players like Andrei Kirilenko, Mirza Teletovic, Alan Anderson and Mason Plumlee also play with an edge.
And perhaps one of the new youthful additions -– Sergey Karasev, Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson or Bojan Bogdanovic –- will surprise and exceed expectations and offset some of their inexperience with some toughness.
But this is where losing Pierce hurts. While Pierce won’t average 20-something points nightly, the veteran set a tone on many nights for the Nets. Look no further than the regular-season games against the Heat that had a big-game feel to them along with the first-round series when Pierce came up big against the Raptors, particularly on the road when the Nets needed him most.
Johnson may be the Nets' best go-to option but Pierce was the guy they often looked to when the moment called for leadership or experience. Johnson displayed a quiet toughness last season with his stellar play but he’s not the vocal-type of leader to grab the team and take charge like Pierce could.
Kidd might’ve been inexperienced as a head coach last season but the players all respected his vast playing experience and he wasn't afraid to make some gutsy postseason moves such as putting Anderson in the starting lineup for Livingston against Toronto with the season on the line.
Hollins, though, brings a wealth of experience and he’s known as a tough, no-nonsense coach. He has to be the guy who provides the intangibles that Kidd and Pierce took with them to Milwaukee and Washington, respectively.
Garnett won’t be on the floor as much as he would like. Williams and Lopez will be on the mend and taking things slowly at the start.
It’s gotta be Lionel to provide the toughness and leadership. If not, this coming season might feel a lot like 2013 again.